Most marketers aren’t prepared for a disaster.

The result: wasted money…and worse.

You see, over the last 40 years, I’ve seen earthquakes, fires, floods, tornadoes, snowstorms, horrific events and terrorism, distract prospects’ attention from lead generation or buying, and destroy digital, TV, radio and direct mail campaigns.

Nearly every area of the country is susceptible to natural or man-made disaster. And as uncomfortable as it is to think about it, the threat of a terrorist attack is an unfortunate reality today.

While no one wants to dwell on such a sensitive topic, if a disaster occurs, do you have a strategy in place to keep your business running smoothly and avoid costly marketing blunders?


  1. Your strategy: Be proactive.

When considering your direct mail, TV/radio, email and digital marketing during a terrible event, think about the extent of the disaster.

Is it nationwide? Then suspend your marketing and wait…Responses will dry up, don’t waste your money.

During a manageable regional or state/local disaster (for example, a class 1 or 2 hurricane), the USPS diverts mail from affected zip codes to nearby processing and distribution facilities and is held for later delivery.

And your prospects in the impacted area won’t be paying attention to your electronic or digital ads.

However, in a catastrophic disaster like Hurricane Katrina or a terrorist attack, you may be faced with many days, weeks or even months that go by before direct mail service resumes or prospects start responding to ads.


  1. Market smart: Eliminate wasteful spending.

Natural disasters will almost certainly depress response to your direct mail and digital marketing, including email, digital ads, Facebook ads and more.

For direct mail, it’s essential to watch the news and use the USPS resource on weather updates (click here) so you can make an informed decision on mailing areas and printing counts.

Be prepared to move quickly to edit printing counts and adjust mailing areas by eliminating mail in the impacted areas.

If you decide to avoid mailing, use the resource from USPS mentioned above to identify affected areas, then eliminate those zip codes during your merge-purge.

For TV/radio, email and digital ads, simply suppress those areas in your campaign.


  1. Timing: Watch and listen.

I recommend that my clients wait 2 to 3 weeks after the emergency is over before remailing into affected areas.

For some events, it might be 24-48 hours. For example, the shooting in Las Vegas had the highest impact on low response for the first 24 hours after the event. Within 3 days, results were back to normal.

Be prepared for depressed response ripples in surrounding areas. Just because an area isn’t directly affected by a disaster, doesn’t mean it won’t affect your response. For example, after the shooting at the church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, all of Texas saw a 2-day change in response.

Even if your prospects aren’t directly affected by the incident, they may still be affected by the news. Your mailing piece, emails, or landing page will be the last thing on their minds.

During one case of wildfires in Southern California, the disaster was limited to a few zip codes and media attention lasted only one week. In this particular case, suppressing Southern California would not have made sense for most marketing pieces, but you should evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis.


  1. Prepare your marketing infrastructure before a disaster occurs.

 Thankfully, there are few things you can do before disaster strikes to protect your business, profits and infrastructure.

The time to prepare for a disaster is now. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Make sure your business has a solid business continuity plan in the event of a catastrophe or natural disaster.


  1. Have a backup plan for your call center.

If you take orders over the phone, be prepared.

Have a customer service back-up plan. After the San Diego wildfires in the early 2000’s, Real Health Laboratories closed their home offices, call center and fulfillment center for 36 hours. As a result, product shipments were delayed for about 2 days – complicated by the fact that the company had just mailed a catalog the week before.

Have a back-up call center to handle calls and orders from customers and business associates. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orelans clothier Orient Expressed survived largely because it immediately re-routed phone calls to Signius, a back-up phone service. The company continued to take orders, phone calls and explain delays to customers.


  1. Finally, map the “points of failure” of your business or marketing plan.

Analyze your customer processes from beginning to end to map out areas where a natural disaster could disrupt your business. For example, keep your emergency contact list and procedures up to date and review them regularly so you’re always prepared for any disruptions.

Unfortunately, you can’t control mother nature or crazy people. But armed with some preventative measures and a preventative action plan, you can take steps to ensure you don’t waste money and your business survives, no matter what the situation.

Here are the rest of this week’s articles:

How Wine of the Month Club Boosted Response Using Premiums
Copy Tip: The Incredible Power of NOW
Testing Corner: Email Subject Lines That Boost Response
My Talk on Equity Crowdfunding and Multichannel Integrated Marketing at FreedomFest